The realities of Demand Response for Data Centres - Addressing Complexities and Challenges
For Ireland’s data centres the prospect of feeding power back to the grid through demand response has entered the public discourse.
At Data Centres Ireland , Ed Ansett, chairman and founder of i3 Solutions Group led a debate with industry sector leaders on the role of demand response in Ireland’s integrated energy future and how to make it viable.
It explored the practical realities and complexities for operators of delivering electricity back to the grid through demand response. The discussion started with a simple question:
Ed Ansett: “How would you attract data centre operators to participate in demand response programs?”
Thomas Seeber, Sales & Commercial Director INNIO Group said: “In principle it would be through additional revenue generation. However, the conservative world of the data centre is not necessarily meant to have power exported to the grid. That said, given their energy consumption rates data centres should have a capability for supporting the grid with additional power.”
Addressing Ireland’s changing regulatory framework as overseen by the SEM (Single Electricity Market) committee and its DS3 (Delivering a Secure, Sustainable Power System) programme, Eddie Kilbane, CEO, at Irish DC operator Data Plex pointed to pre-existing constraints. He said that today contractual agreements with clients meant data centres were not permitted to provide demand response. Kilbane called for a more holistic approach and joined up thinking, pointing to a changing regulatory environment which is expected to call for on-site standalone generation to provide power. He believes this “is not something that can happen at scale” and had carbon cost implications that would “add to the DC carbon footprint.”
Ed Ansett: If sustainability and being net zero is the key objective, is there a role for running on natural gas and green hydrogen?
Thomas Seeber: “Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel which can achieve 25% less CO2 emissions and 90% less nitrogen oxide emissions compared running on diesel. Currently, hydrogen is not constantly available in the right quantities when and where it is required. However, gas engines are ready to take hydrogen and most manufacturers are capable of running 25% blended hydrogen in the natural gas pipeline.”
Tony Burn, Business Development Executive, Edina Limited, said: “Producing green hydrogen is very efficient. There is no doubt that it is a growing sector. The practicalities of how to get power from off-shore wind turbines to electrolyse is a challenge.”
Ed Ansett: Is there a future for data centres generating their own hydrogen on-site near an offshore wind farm? Could overcapacity in available wind power be used to generate green hydrogen?
Eddie Kilbane: “If all the windfarms in Ireland were running today, the country could only use 25% of the power generated so there is massive over capacity.”
Thomas Seeber: “The prospect of hydrogen should be seen as a storage capability in the future alongside battery energy systems.”
Russ Barker, Product and Service Sales Director UK & Ireland at Vertiv: “Data centres could become energy storage sites using different models such as wind power at night to charge batteries to be used in the day.”
Eddie Kilbane: “Those solutions all cost money but DCs can create a base load and there are companies and markets that will pay for those services.”
Ed Ansett: Is there an argument that diesel and HVO (hydronated vegetable oil) have a future?
Tony Byrne: “There are a mix of technology types that might be deployed. To invest in an asset today requires it to be future-proof and hydrogen will be a big factor going forward. The challenge for developers is to decide what type of technology to deploy in response to the new regulations. For example, in Ireland, based on the premise of security and supply, if a site or generator has capacity above 10 megawatts it is obliged to have a secondary fuel store on site for between 3 to 5 days of operation.”
Ed Ansett: Let’s talk about grid interactive UPS in terms of conventional standalone battery energy storage used for grid support. Given the sheer number of data centres in Ireland do you think there’s a potential for DC energy UPS storage that could obviate the requirement for standalone BESS systems.
Russ Barker: “To a degree. We can do what is required for the addressing of faults although it is hard to get that from an SLA. We have the technology to provide those services cheaply and quickly to mitigate against faults. For FFR (Fast Frequency Response) it can mitigate from a large installed base. Fundamentally it comes down to resilience and people accepting that there will be no paradigm shift in the UPS still doing what it does. It is available. It is not being implemented. But it seems to make a lot of sense from a sustainability perspective.”
Conclusion: What happens in Ireland doesn’t stay in Ireland
Ireland’s data centre sector has a high public profile – among the highest of any developed economy. Some are questioning why it uses such a large percentage of the island’s available power and asking if this is sustainable. From some quarters this has led to calls for moratoria on new builds, caps on energy consumption by data centres and tougher sustainability targets.
From Ireland to Singapore and across every major economy where data centre development and operation is being discussed in terms of power generation and distribution, the data centre demand response debate to provide stability and sustainability has only just started.
Watch the video discussion here:
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